Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 26, 2010
Benedict: Active pastor targeting Europe
Catholic intellectual George Weigel sees pope's advances diminished by need for Vatican Curia reform
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - During his five years as chief pastor of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict has shown that he is a holy priest, brilliant teacher and master catechist, says a leading U.S. Catholic intellectual.
George Weigel said he had known Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for 17 years prior to his election as pope on April 19, 2005.
With Ratzinger's election, Weigel said his first thought was that "the world would finally see the man I had come to know and esteem rather than the cartoon caricature that had been created of him."
Over those five years, Pope Benedict has tried to lead the Church to "an encounter with our own roots" in his audience talks and has challenged "the soul-withering secularism" that has permeated European culture, Weigel said in an April 15 interview.
He has been "an attractive pastor" and has challenged Islam on tough questions. The pope also sparked warmer relationships with the Eastern Orthodox and encouraged Catholics to discover the wonders of the liturgy, Weigel said.
Again and again, Pope Benedict has shown "he wants to invite the Church and the world into what he calls friendship with Jesus Christ," he said.
Weigel, distinguished senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Centre, spoke with the WCR in an interview prior to his talk at a Nothing More Beautiful session at St. Joseph's Basilica. He is the author of numerous books, including the definitive biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope.
He lauded the pope for his September 2006 speech at Regensburg, Germany, in which he quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor, who said the prophet Mohammed had brought "things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith."
The comment stirred up furious controversy with the pope later clarifying that he was not endorsing the emperor's words. But the furor also spurred dialogue between leading Christian and Muslim intellectuals.
Weigel's view: "I think the pope did the world a great service by saying to the complicated world of Islam, 'We need to have a conversation about religious freedom as a fundamental human right that can be known by reason and we need to talk about the separation of religious and political authority in a modern state.'
"In other words, we have to start with the tough questions, the questions that create all the friction between the Islamic world and the rest of the world."
Weigel also said the pope has provided "compelling catechesis" for Catholics in his Wednesday general audience talks. In those talks, Pope Benedict has so far given an overview of the thoughts and lives of figures from the Acts of the Apostles, the fathers of the Church and medieval theologians.
"We proceed into the future by having a secure grasp on our own tradition," was how Weigel summed up the underlying thrust of those talks.
Under the current pope, there has also been "a great warming up of relations between the Vatican and the Eastern Orthodox," he said.
The Orthodox world is "terribly divided within itself," he noted, adding that one should not expect to see vastly improved relations between the two churches soon. But as the Orthodox reflect on becoming "Christian islands in a roiling Islamic sea," the importance of strong connections with the Church in the West may become more apparent to them.
Weigel said many expected Pope Benedict to institute a serious structural reform of the Vatican Curia, but that has not happened. "I think frankly he has been hurt by that."
The point of having a Curia is to make the pope's ministry possible and effective around the world, he said. Instead, the lack of coordination at the Vatican has sometimes gotten in the way of his ministry.
The ancient claim of the pope to have a universal teaching voice is now being taken seriously by the world, he said. It is unacceptable that the Vatican's communications efforts have been so unimpressive.
"The pope doesn't seem to be inclined to spend his energies on organizational restructuring. But it's going to have to be done at some point."
Pope Benedict's letter last month to the Church in Ireland over the country's sexual abuse scandals is the strongest statement of its type that Weigel can recall. Even the Rwandan bishops did not get such a severe dressing down for their role in the 1994 genocide.
Weigel predicted the pope would soon restructure the Irish Church, ensuring that some bishops resign, new ones are appointed and that there are fewer dioceses.
He also said the publication of part two of the pope's book, Jesus of Nazareth, will be important as the summing up of his 60 years of scholarly work.
Pope Benedict will also continue his sharp focus on Europe as "the historic heartland of Christianity," he said. "Europe has become a very arid place religiously."
The pope will do everything he can in his remaining years to "jumpstart a new evangelical energy in Europe."
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